Category Archives: discipleship

The Lord is Our Lodestar

Supposedly people are leaving California by droves. I saw a Babylon Bee this week to the effect of awarding Governor Newsom the highest salesman for U-Haul trucks. I do not want to get political. I think I am largely allergic to politics. 

That being said, I felt the weight of the world this week. I felt the weight of the reality that God has led us to have our children in public schools in San Diego (if you disagree, please take it up with the Lord himself, as we get our orders for our children each year from him). Even those who are not called to raise their children in an urban, postChristian, postmodern city must grapple with the incredibly strong cultural currents that are ripping through once seemingly (though only seemingly) serene cultural seas. 

This Friday, I spoke to our youth, a motley crew of 12-15 years olds, about identity. I had to contend for things that were once commonly presumed and assumed. But I was glad for the chance to be sharpened and concise enough in my communication of biblical identity to be heard and semi-understood in fifteen minutes before fifteen year olds. 

Our identity is not the same as our identifiers. Our deepest identity is not merely the sum of our surname, our sport, our successes, and our sex. Our deepest identity is who our Creator says we are irregardless of our feelings, failures, or foibles. As his created image-bearers, we are his by birth (Genesis 1:26-27; Psalm 139; Isaiah 43:20). And those who are in Christ are twice-his. His by birth and His by rebirth (Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3: 5-8).

As those purchased at an unthinkable cost, our lives are no longer our own (Galatians 2:20-21; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

I wish I could say that I always lived in the peace and with the purpose that comes from these rock-solid realities. But, as I was teaching them, I was reminding myself. 

If I were my own, I could make decisions on my own. I could at least pretend to be in control of the circumstances around me and my children. Alas and alleluia, I am not.  

When I think about what our children are hearing and seeing, I cringe and cower in fear. I want to remove them from any trace of the evil one and lewd lies (John 8:44). But, then the Spirit leads my stirred-up spirit to truth as spoken by our Savior. 

“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out  of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you send them me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:14-18).

As I was praying this for our children, the Spirit opened my eyes to a new reality. When Jesus was praying this for his disciples (and us, as his future disciples), he knew exactly what this meant. He could not claim ignorance or partial knowledge of evil and its power, as He, being fully God and fully man, knew evil in its full, unalloyed strength. 

Jesus could likely see Peter hanging upside down on a cross when he prayed these words. He prayed this costly prayer knowing full well what Nero would do in the Roman colosseum. His all-knowing, all-seeing, all-pure eyes knew evil in a way that we never will, as we would be crushed and undone. Jesus prayed with one eye wide-open to evil and the other expectant of the keeping protection of His Father. 

Yet, he still prayed, “I do not ask that you  take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” These words, spoken on behalf of his disciples, only reiterate what he had spoken directly to them:

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs are on your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:28-31).

When fear of what my children may be hearing or seeing fills me, a greater fear must do the work of expelling it. My God sees, hears, and knows all. He knows the boundary lines allotted to my children. He knows the days they are living in. He chose their zip code. 

Far more important than these realities, he knows them. He knows their hearts as he knows the hairs on their heads. I am limited. I am fallible. I often don’t know what is best. 

But their ultimate Keeper does not grow weary and does not follow a circadian rhythm. He stands alert even when I sleep. He goes where I cannot go. He guards constantly, keeping watch over their souls (Psalm 121). He alerts me through his Spirit and his Word. He directs us both. He is our lodestar, the fixed point who steers us through cloud-shrouded days and dark nights. 

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Lodestar

God is the lodestar of our lives;
He keeps our course set aright.
Above even the fiercest storm,
He guides us through the night.

The Lord, our designated Captain,
With great cost has gone ahead.
He charted a course through Hades
As the firstborn from the dead.

The Spirit, our steadying compass,
Cabins ever-so-closely within.
With Christ-exalting accuracy,
He points both to comfort and sin.

With such Triune involvement,
Even broken vessels have hope.
We’ll be guided safe to harbor
Bound by love’s threefold rope.

Weighted Love

Love carries weight, both literally and metaphorically. Just ask the momma carrying a toddler who is tired in addition to his or her bike to the car from the park. Or ask the father of a child who is differently abled as he loads a wheelchair into the van.  Ask the parents of a soldier whose child is deployed in Afghanistan the weight of their heart lately. Contrary to the cultural view of love as flitting feeling or whimsy, love is weighty.

But, if love carries weight, it also bestows weight. Love deposits substance and significance. I’ve watched it happen. A student otherwise overlooked and underperforming receives a teacher who sees and speaks potential over her. Daily deposits of love and care slowly compound into a more settled confidence. An adult with autism finds an employer who believes in his abilities and gives him the dignity of significant responsibilities. A counselor gives a client who has a history of abuse the weight of agency.

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The Weight of His Love

In Isaiah 43, God says something astounding about his people:

Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life (Isaiah 43:4).

What an undeserved laundry list of words: precious, honored, loved. At first, these words may sound like the flippant words describing love in our culture. However, the context of these verses within the book of Isaiah help us to understand the weight of God’s love. Repeatedly throughout the book of Isaiah God uses court language regarding his people: he calls them to come before him in an attempt to defend themselves, he indicts them of their crimes, both obvious and hidden, he provides overwhelming evidence of their idolatry. On the backdrop of this grim reality, verses like the aforementioned one shine brightly with the incredible reality of God’s love.

Convicted, defenseless children though we are, God declares us precious in his eyes. The Hebrew word yaqar can mean to be esteemed or appraised highly, but it comes from a Hebrew root which means to be heavy. God, who sees us with eyes of piercing honesty, appraises us as valuable and precious. This value does come from within us; it is placed in us because of his love. His love gives us weight and significance in his eyes.

The Hebrew word kabad translated honor above, literally means to be heavy, weighty, or burdensome. Often it is used to describe the honor and weight due to God himself, but here, God uses to describe us! The word choice here literally stopped me in my tracks. We are honored, not because of our merit, but because He has honed in on us with his love. We have weight with him, not because of any substance of our own, but because he has filled our lives with blessing of knowing him. 

We are precious (weighty) and honored (weighty) because we are loved. The order is significant. If the order were reversed, we might get the false impression that because we are important and carry weight, we are loved by God. However, this verse and the thrust of the entirety of the Scriptures assure us that we are loved, and because we are loved, we are appraised as weighty to the God of all wonders!

The Cost of His Love

Inspired by the Spirit, the prophet Isaiah spoke with the language of redemption and ransom. The weight of God’s love for his people would lead him to redeem and ransom them at great cost.

In Psalm 49, the psalmist writes about the weight of a ransom saying, “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice” (Psalm 49:7-8). No merely human sacrifice would carry enough weight to ransom humanity. God himself would have to do it. Inspired by the Spirit, Isaiah would prophesy about a coming Messiah, a suffering servant, who would redeem his people with a costly love. Now, we, indwelled by the Spirit, carry the weight of such a love.

His sacrificial love has bestowed unthinkable weight upon us. As such, we are invited to love others in a way that bestows honor and dignity upon them. In a world of conditional, flippant love, such costly loves provides gravity and grace.

Risk, Reward, and the Redeemer

I’ve had risk on my mind of late.

It may have been taking three middle school boys (whose prefrontal cortices are not fully developed yet) hiking on a dangerous trail that triggered such a topic. Then again, it may have been the fact that we recently switched our youngest son from a small private school to a larger public school. My risk-mindedness may also be attributed to the fact that my husband and I transitioned from a ministry we have served for decades into church planting. Likely, all of these rivulets have added to the river of risk into which I have been wading.

According to a model devised by Gerald White and his collaborator John Adams, every human has an optimal risk threshold. In order to stay within the risk threshold that feels most right to who they are and how they are wired, each person is constantly balancing three factors: risk, safety, and reward.

If their theory is true, my risk temperature is arctic. I do not like the heat of change or risk. I would much rather stay within the lines and follow my norm than try something different, especially if it causes me to feel insecure or unstable. I eat the same breakfast nearly every morning; I walk the same walking route every morning; we eat a rotation of essentially the same meals every week. I sure hope the rest of my family does not have a higher risk threshold than me. If so, my methodical nature is blunting them.

Underneath these tendencies is a deep desire to perform well and get things right. I do the same things because I know those things work. I have learned to perform well in certain lanes. As such, I tend to limit my world to those lanes where I know what to expect and what is expected of me. While I would never outright say it, I don’t feel a desperate need for the Lord when I stay in my risk threshold.

Thankfully, the Lord is constantly turning up the heat and forcing us into risk thresholds that feel terribly uncomfortable. He won’t let me settle for false-safety and insulated risk. He continually calls us to new tasks and new risks which induce healthy fear, new successes and failures, and deep dependence.

The Christian life should be marked by obedient risk which is motivated by the promise of reward. Like a catalyst that helps to lower the rate of reaction, God’s promises and presence help to get us over risk high thresholds as we seek greater reward. While heaven will be rewarding, the secret to its reward is the presence of Christ. As God told Abram, who risked all he had ever known to follow a barely-known God, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Genesis 15:1; NIV).

We leave known jobs and known cities to faithfully follow God’s call on our lives only when we are convinced that the reward is greater than the risk. To get more of Him, we leave what we know and love.

My husband and I encouraged our son to risk a new school because we want him to know Christ not only in exposure but also in his own personal experience. We want him to have a record of God’s faithfulness to him. We want new risks to produce new rescue which produce new songs of praise to God.

Knowing our unconditional security in Christ and the unshakeable nature of the kingdom, we are enabled to take real risks this side of glory. For, as scary as they are, these risks will induce new rescue and new songs of praise.

Sing to the Lord a new son; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day! (Psalm 96:1).

If you find worship falling flat or self-reliance gaining strength, perhaps there is a risk which God is calling you to consider ? It may be as simple as initiating to someone new or seeking to share the gospel with an old friend. It may be as elaborate as a career move or a new venture. Whatever it is, let your Redeemer lead you through risk to more of Himself!

A Word to Bruised Reeds and Dimly Burning Wicks

I have been running on fumes lately. The beginning of our summer felt like a gentle crawl; however, by the beginning of August, our pace was more sprint than stroll. School supplies to buy, well checks to be scheduled, sports games to attend. In addition to the normal hustle, God has birthed an infant church under our care. This means support to raise, insurance plans to shift, and souls to shepherd. In the midst of many necessary and good things, I tend to lose sight of the best thing: time spent in the presence of the Father.

I know I am not alone. I have friends whose faith is running on fumes as they continue to wade through difficult diagnoses. I have friends who feel like bruised reeds, barely standing after a series of storms. I have friends who have walked with Jesus brightly for decades who feel like dimly burning lanterns after the events of the past year.

A languid lot of lamps we are.

Thinking of them and of my own barely-puttering heart, I sat down yesterday for desperately needed time alone with the Lord. I have been slowly meandering through Isaiah 41 and 42 for the past few weeks. And, in God’s merciful timing, the Spirit led me to pick up where I left off in Isaiah 42.

Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him…A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law (Isaiah 42:1 & 3-4).

Isaiah sets up a juxtaposition between God’s people (bruised and dimly burning) and their God who won’t be bruised or dimmed until he brings forth justice for his sin-struggling people. In fact, he ties verses 3 and 4 together by using the same Hebrews words: ratsats which means crushed, oppressed, or struggling and keheh which means dim, dull, discouraged, or faint.

Yesterday, this juxtaposition of our nature to His was just what I needed to be buoyed. I cannot tend to bruised reeds alone, as I myself am a bruised reed. I cannot fan dim lights into flame, as myself am a charred, barely burning wick. But He can. In fact, He already has.

Isaiah said the coming Servant would’t be bruised until he established justice; yet to establish justice for us bruised reeds and dimmed wicks, he let himself be beyond bruised. He chose to be broken on the Cross to buttress His lot of bruised reeds.

He, the light of the world, and the sun He created were snuffed out so we could be fanned into flames that might light this dark world. He who has gone to these lengths for us will naturally continue to care for his languid lot of lamps. He will provide the fresh oil of the Holy Spirit; He Himself will breath fresh air over our souls to coax tiny sparks into flames. He Himself will trim our charred wicks with his scarred hands. He is a gentle light keeper. For no one cares more that the dark corners be lit than He who is its true light.

Dimly burning 

What a languid lot we are,
What barely burning wicks
Who could fan these flames, 
Our feebleness could fix?

If we are to light the world,
We’ll need fresh oil and air.
We’ll need a tender keeper,
Our charred parts to pare. 

Such a keeper we have 
In the Father of all light.
He tends His little lamps,
He’s patient with our plight. 

The Need for Spiritual Specialists

A rock hound who could speak for hours on variations of gems. A car enthusiast who knows the intricate details of a particular make and model. A botanist who knows the subtle differences among species of the same genus. An historian who has spent his or her life in a concentrated study on a condensed time period or people group.

Whenever I speak to a specialists of any kind, I always walk away with wonder: wonder that God wired someone to find such a nuanced, committed interest to one particular cause or subject or trade.

Whether its a particular genus of plants, a condensed part of history, or a car type, I am blown away that someone could expend so much energy and focus so much attention on what seems, in the grand scheme of things, such a narrow subject.

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Specialists sometimes come across as eccentric, as few can understand such a sustained passion towards such a singular subject. True specialists sometimes struggle to understand how others could live uninterested and unmoved by the subject of study which has so captured their imagination and affection.

As Tom Nichols expertly explains in his book The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, expertise is a dying art. As I am generally a generalist myself, I will leave the expertise on expertise to him; however, it struck me this morning that all believers are called to at least one object of expertise.

The Call for Spiritual Specialists

Everyone who has been saved by the good news of the gospel and captured by His irresistible grace is invited to become an expert on Christ. The lyrics to the song “One Pure and Holy Passion” perfectly capture this call.

“Give me one pure and holy passion
Give me one magnificent obsession
Give me one glorious ambition for my life
To know and follow hard after You.

To know and follow hard after You
To grow as your disciple in the truth
The world is empty, pale, and poor
Compared to knowing You, my Lord,
Lead me on and I will run after You
Lead me on and I will run after You.”

The Apostle Paul was a renaissance man before the term existed. He seemed to excel in all that he did, as he so clearly shares in his letter to the Philippians (Philippians 3:3-11) and in his defense before Agrippa (Acts 26:1-11). However, after his encounter on the road to Damascus, he became a specialist in Christ. From an outsider’s opinion, Paul’s life suddenly looked obsessive and off-kilter. His focus narrowed dramatically to the One who narrowed Himself from the expanses of eternity to a human body on our account.

Whereas he used to be celebrated in many Jewish circles, he began to be judged as myopic. As he told the church in Corinth, if the resurrection were not true, he would be of all men most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:12-19).

The Hazards of Specialization

While we are not uniquely called as an Apostle in the same manner as Paul, all who trust in and believe upon Christ are called to see Him and the gospel as supremely worthy of study, wonder, and worship. As J.I. Packer wrote in Knowing God, “The more complex the object, the more complex is the knowing of it.”

Our Christ is supremely complex and marvelously multi-faceted. For all eternity, we will explore Him and expand in our knowledge and worship of Him. We will never come to the edge of understanding him or the precipice of knowing His purposes.

As with all specialists, we will likely be labeled imbalanced and obsessive. We will be written off as narrow-minded in a culture that prides itself on being broad-minded. People will likely roll their eyes in a there-they-go-again attitude when we speak of our central love for Christ. People may tire of hearing about our love for Christ, but we ought never tire of worshipping and studying Him.

He is worthy of our wonder. He is infinitely complex. To know Him is to have life and life abundant.

“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

The Parabola of Pashcal Love

The promises which will comfort us most in fulfillment can sometimes feel agonizing in their process. The listening is easy, the living is hard. We all want to be humble, but few of us want to be humbled.

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died, and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

Poetic, right? These verses sound almost melodic. But being compelled, controlled, urged by the love of Christ involves discomfort. It involves being utterly bent in ways that feel like breaking. It involves exposure and exercises which feel wildly unnatural to the flesh like confession, costly forgiveness, and humility.

As we get ready to plant a church, I feel my flesh resisting such reshaping. I like order and sameness. I like doing things that feel natural and easy. I do not like new or awkward or starting over. I like reassuring and comforting faith; I do not like risking and convicting faith. But you cannot have one without the other.

I am comforted to know that this arc, this motion, to which we are being pressed by faith in God is nothing new. It may feel unnatural, but it is eternal and right. It is the path every believer in Christ must tread in order to become one who resembles Him.

The Parabola of Paschal Love

Existing. Extinguished. Exalted.
The parabola of paschal love. 
The ground of all being bent low
To lift His wayward ones above. 

Image-bearers are to imitate 
The Son’s glorious descent. 
His love reshapes our souls 
To His benevolent bent. 

From Incurvatus in se 
To strangely cruciform-
Such divine discomfort 
Is the believer’s norm. 

If you feel constrained and strained by Christ’s love, you are in the best company.

Heights and Hooves

When I think of heights, I think of incredible views and vista points. I tend to forget the uphill climb, the exertion, the precipices, and the risks involved in scaling or climbing to such heights.

I like the view, but I often don’t like the voyage. After all, there is a reason most of us enjoy pictures from those who have summited Everest but have zero desire to ever accomplish such a feat.

The same is true when it comes to spiritual heights. Most of us want maturity and perspective, yet we refuse the risky and uncomfortable journeys which lead to those vistas.

This week, I have been studying Psalm 18. In it, David is on the run from a paranoid and jealous Saul (who happens to be the father of his best friend in the entire world… and we think our stories are complicated!). David is quite literally living on the edge of existence, hiding out in crags and caves in an incredibly harsh and unrelenting climate.

“I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies” (Psalm 18:1-3).

Y’all. David is not in the Hilton on a comfortable vacation writing such sweet musings. He is literally running for his life from a madman. These are not soft words, but realities as solid as the rocks under which he is hiding for refuge. They are tested and proven words spoken out of tangible experiences of God’s faithfulness.

“For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? – the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless. He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights….You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great” (Psalm 18:31-35).

I wonder if David, while hiding out in the heights, had watched deer whose hooves are uniquely adapted for their life on the edge (quite literally)? I wonder if he saw their unthinkable ability to cling to crags and live off the sparse vegetation that grows at such altitudes?

He saw in God’s provision for them a picture of God’s provision for his survival on the heights. If He gives heights, He will give hooves.

Heights & Hooves 

If He assigns heights,
He’ll also give hooves. 
His thoughtful provision 
Fledgling fear removes. 

He sees the topography 
From His high ground. 
His planning is perfect.
His strategy is sound. 

If daunting and draining
The path might appear,
We trust our trainer-
His presence is near. 

For, carrying a cross, 
He climbed a hill-
To carry us home 
Back into His will. 

His jarring journey 
Our ways transform.
All He assigns us
To Him must conform. 

I don’t know what mountains you are called to climb right now. I don’t know what unstable and shifting ground the Lord has called you to stand firm upon. I don’t know the spiritual enemies that are pursuing with hatred for harm.

But I know the One who does. And He prepares His people for their paths, especially the grueling ones. His gentleness makes us great. Happy hooves to you, my friend!

Modern Problems & Ancient Solutions

The first Tim Keller sermon cassettes (that’s right, cassettes) I owned belonged to a series on the Psalms called “Modern Problems & Ancient Solutions.” Yes, I realize I sound ancient myself speaking of the yellow sports tape player upon which I played those tapes. At the time, most of the words ran in one ear and out the other as I ran around my small college town; however, as the Spirit is prone to do, He steadily brings them out of storage for practical use even today, some twenty years later.

Modern Problems

While the beginning of the series title might be changed to postmodern problems or even postChristian problems, the solution needs no tweaking. I say that to remind myself and others that, while the presenting issues may have changed, the biblical solutions to those issues remain rock steady.

Lately, I have been overwhelmed by the state of our world. I barely read the news, but when I do, I literally feel a burden in my throat and my tummy. Listening to our new Burmese friends speak of what their families in Myanmar are experiencing, seeing pictures of Gaza being blown to pieces by rocket fire, watching churches rip each other to shreds over modern solutions to racism. We don’t have to go looking for these things to find them in our faces.

As a mother, I tremble as I pray for our boys who are entering their teenage years. While those years are already fraught with identity struggles, our boys are literally being assaulted with worldly “wisdom” at the deepest levels of identity and sexuality. It all feels so impossibly upside-down. I feel paralyzed by postmodern problems.

This morning, as I sat down to study Psalm 18, I heard David singing a similar tune.

The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me (Psalm 18:4-5).

Listen to the imagery David uses here. Cords of death surrounding and suffocating him. Floods of destruction coming suddenly upon. Entangled by evil. In fact, the Hebrew word qadam translated “confronted me” might be translated into modern vernacular as “got all up in my face.”

David’s ancient phrases perfectly describe how I feel about our modern problems. Suffocating, sudden, and all up in our face.

Ancient Solutions

The verse immediately following David’s lament, while it sounds simple, struck me as deeply profound this morning.

In my distress, I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears (Psalm 18:6).

David’s solution to the stultifying and suffocating ancient problems which surrounded him was to cry out to God. The Ageless One who stands outside of time, readied Himself to come to the aid of His people.

He bowed the heavens and came down (Psalm 18:9)

David writes in imagery what we know as history though the Incarnation of Christ. Only, when our Christ bowed the heavens and came down, He came in gentleness and meekness. He allowed Himself to be encompassed by death. He did not need to be held by cords, as He willingly gave Himself to the ignoble death of a criminal. The flood of the consequences of our sin surrounded Him. God turned away from His cries so that He could turn to hear ours.

So we cry out to our God. When the sexual ethic shifts all around our children, we cry out to God. When people continue to turn against people, we cry out to God. When the evil within our own hearts leaves us shocked and paralyzed, we cry out to God.

And our cries fall upon open ears. And the One who enabled such cries to be heard prays for us (Hebrews 7:25).

Oh, that our Ancient Solution would be freshly brought to bear on our modern problems, beginning with a fresh reapplication to our own hearts and homes.

Mind the Gap: Leaving Gaps for God to Fill

In high school, I had the privilege of spending some time in London. Even though we saw Buckingham Palace and the changing of guards and nearly got mauled by the murder of crows in Trafalgar Square, what stuck with me most was the British recorded voice saying, “Mind the Gap!” every time we disembarked public forms of transit.

Lately, the same phrase has been running circuits in my mind as I seek to parent teenagers. After all, the teenage years are marked by gaps: age gaps and height gaps, as well as gaping needs for peer interactions and gaping needs for security, identity, and affirmation.

As it is graduation time, I keep seeing those precious side-by-side pictures. You know, the ones where a cute toddler picture is juxtaposed with a grown teenager and captioned with sappy words from sad but proud parents?! I am clearly not opposed to these modern forms of marking out, as I have often posted similar side-by-side pictures of my own crew. However, what you don’t see in all those pictures are the agonizing moments of parents stepping around, praying over, and minding the gaps.

Emotional and relational gaps between what is expected and what is real concerning friends and fun. Physical and mental gaps exposed at try-outs, losses, and moments of risk and failure. Spiritual gaps shown between what heads know and what hearts struggle to believe. The strange, suddenly-shrinking-then-suddenly growing-gap between childhood dependence and young adult independence.

The Temptation to “Mend the Gap”

It sounds so simple to “Mind the Gap.” After all, to mind gaps is merely to notice them, expect them, factor them in and readjust to them. However, when I hear the phrase, my fleshly momma heart hears it as, “Mend the Gap.”

When my children are experiencing the gaps that mark the teenage years, so often, I want to fix and fill them as quickly as humanly possible. I don’t want them to experience the confusion and loneliness of wondering where to sit at the lunch table in a huge high school. I don’t want them to be bored on a Saturday evening, feeling like there is something wrong with them or that they are missing out. I don’t want them to feel stigmatized for speaking up about their faith and not fitting into because they are standing on convictions. I don’t want them to feel like they don’t measure up physically or don’t have what it takes to be strong compared to friends who tower over them.

But God doesn’t call me to mend these gaps, at least not always. He calls me to notice them and acknowledge them, sometimes quietly and sometimes aloud in relationship with my boys. He invites me to have conversations about these gaps with my guys. He most assuredly asks me to bring them to Him in prayer.

For these are opportunities both for me and my boys to watch and wait on the Lord and eventually to wonder at His goodness, graciousness, and wisdom.

I have found myself praying Psalm 25:1-3 for my boys as they experience various gaps right now.

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; O my God, in you I trust: let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous (Psalm 125:1-3).

It is so easy for me to want to offer up self-made, knee-jerk solutions when God is merely asking me to offer up the stories of my sons to Him as yet another fragrant offering.

When I mind the gaps, rather than seeking to mend them, I leave room for my children to wrestle and cry out the God who has sovereignly allowed such gaps. I leave room for His Spirit to do what I cannot and should not do. I leave space for disappointment and confusion that could be gifts to lead them closer to the God I so long that they will know.

A Terraced Heart: Digging Deeper into Knowing God

In South Carolina, lawns were typically flat and flourishing. San Diego yards, not so much.

What San Diego yards lack in size, they make up in depth and character. It is not uncommon to have a yard that backs up to a deep canyon. Resourceful homeowners with canyon-views learn to terrace their yards. Their hard, creative work results in beautiful, multi-level yards marked with nooks and crannies.

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Psalm 84
This past week, I have been studying and meditating on Psalm 84. This well-known psalm boasts three main, “Blessed are those” statements, each coupled an image. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, shown poetically by the sparrow nesting in the house of the Lord.  Blessed are those whose strength is in you, pictured by  saints on pilgrimage to God’s Temple, and blessed is the one who trusts in you, imaged by the content doorkeeper in the house of the Lord.

While in other seasons of life, my heart has grabbed on to the first and the third images, this week, my heart and attention were captured by the middle verses and accompanying imagery.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose hearts are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84: 5-7. 

A Terraced Heart

The Hebrew word mesillah translated highways above comes from the root word salalSalal can also be translated as lifting or ladder. A heart full of pathways, a laddered heart, a heart set on pilgrimage to more of God by the strength of God.

In the past when I have thought about a heart full of highways, the image that came to mind was the Autobahn in Germany, a well-paved, smooth, clear highway to the Lord. However, the introduction of the imagery of climbing and ladders shifted my image to one that seems to more appropriately show what pilgrimage to the Lord looks like. A climb, a curvy, circuitous route.

While those on pilgrimage on to the actual house of God would have climbed upward, I often feel like my walk with the Lord looks more like a downward climb to the heart of God. After all, in the gospel, we learn that the way down is the way up.

While it takes great strength to climb upward, it takes equal or more strength to travel the path of downward mobility that leads to the heart of God.

As I thought about these verses, our dear friends’ stunning canyon-facing yard came to mind. The initial level is a beautiful patio. Many people would be content to stay there, leaving the rest of the steep yard uncultivated. However, our friends have slowly, over the course of a decade, begun to terrace their yard downward, level by level. The result is that every time you visit their home, you are shocked to find yet another terrace, cultivated, beautified and planted.  They are not even 3/4 of the way down their property, and their terraced yard is already a maze of hidden spaces.

I long to have a heart that resembles their terraced yard. One that refuses to settle with what I know of God and have experienced of His presence. I long to continually,  by His strength, descend deeper into the untamed and wild places of my heart and the world around me, and begin to experience Him there.

A Place of Springs

The pilgrimage pictured in Psalm 84 is one through the Valley of Baca which literally means weeping place.  Often the pathway to the presence of God leads us through pain, disappointment and suffering, our own proverbial valleys of weeping. However, the psalmists paints a portrait of the tears we shed in those valleys of weeping becoming pools of refreshment for those who will pass through the same valley after us.

What depths of hope and purpose we have in the midst of our downward pilgrimages to better know and be conformed to the heart of God.  Each downturn is a chance to cultivate gospel-terraced hearts; each  valley of weeping is a chance to create a refreshing pool for those who suffer similarly in the future.

May we know the happiness, the blessedness of those who move from strength to strength, deeper into the heart of God!